Thursday, September 30, 2010

I Hate the Eternal September

(I've been working on this post, on and off, for at least 5 years. I'm fairly certain that it hasn't been worth the wait. But I'm kind of drunk right now, and I'm also facing some self-imposed time pressure to post this before yet another September passes.)

I hate the Eternal September. It's basically the theory that USENET, and by extension, the Internet, was going to be a sort of utopian playground populated by self-actualized, empowered DIY-coder-types who would harness the power of democratized technology to build the Internet apps to control their own destiny and lead to a pre-Technological Singularity singularity where geeks ruled the world in a pure, technological, many-to-many, disintermediated meritocracy etc. etc. etc... that is, before AOL wrecked it all by unleashing the unwashed masses onto USENET, ruining everything.

(It's a mindset that I ascribe, perhaps somewhat unfairly, perhaps not, to Nicholas Negroponte's Being Digital.)

Now, of course, being a self-admitted former AOL employee, one might chalk this up to pure defensiveness, even though the precipitating action predated my employment there by a few months.

However, if you've talked to me before about social media, you've probably heard my rant against that kind of revisionist technological utopianism:
There is, in fact, a communications medium that allows only particpation by the technically savvy. There are significant barriers to entry, and in fact, you have to pass an entire certification and licensing regime, and if you don't conform to norms and rules, you're out.
That medium is ham radio. And (apologies to my friends who are hams) outside of certain natural disasters and talking to spacecraft in Earth orbit, it is a medium that is essentially irrelevant to the cultural conversation.
My hypothesis is that, without the truly democratizing influence of the unsavvy, unwashed masses flooding the Internet for their celebrity gossip and movie quotes and chain e-mails and so forth, the Internet wouldn't have been nearly as influential and universal as it is now.

Now, by nature, I'm kind of an elitist, but at the same time, I think I recognize the limits of elitism and the power of populism. And I think the influence of the Internet is reflected in both of those concepts.

Anyway, that's just, like, my opinion.


Quasar said...

ok. that was coherent. you must not be that drunk. i am, however, drunker than a skunk. so your words seemed like they belonged together. whatever. there's always tomorrrow.

Joelogon said...

Thanks, I think.